The naked truth about Kilts

What do Scotsmen wear under their kilts? - March 24, 1995

As another Scottish weirdo, I can confirm “true Scotsmen” don’t wear anything under the kilt, but that fact hides a more interesting story. Tartan was outlawed after the Jacobite rebellions, and so the modern kilt is a Victorian invention, partly popularised by Sir Walter Scott, to help integrate Scotland into the English Empire.

A historical kilt wasn’t the pleated, plaid skirt that you see today, it was nine yards of woollen cloth wrapped around the waist and over the shoulder. Any “true Scotsman” wouldn’t be caught dead in a modern kilt, as this was basically an English invention for domesticated Scots. Any kilt-wearer you see is either uninformed or a simple exhibitionist, as seemingly lots of ladies like to check what the laddies underwear is.

The Highlanders who wore the traditional nine yards of woollen material had only one battle tactic to respond to gunfire, the ‘Highland charge’, running at the (English) enemy at full pelt, and breaking their lines using large swords called Claymores. It was a surprisingly effective tactic that relied on terrorising the enemy before they could reload. However, nine yards of woollen material is very heavy, and wasn’t suitable for running and fighting with a heavy sword and shield. So, the legend goes, the Scots would shed their kilts and run naked towards the enemy, in the literally ‘altogether’ scarier sight. More recently it is claimed that nobles would wear light orange smocks, but that’s nobles for you.
Presumably, the tradition of nakedness under the modern English skirt now called a kilt comes from the days when Scots would shed their genuine kilts to charge into battle to terrifying effect.

Or, y’know, going to a wedding.

Edit: just twigged what your username means. Very good!

Well, I suppose the regiments ( sadly, regiment nowadays) imbued the modern kilt with their own significance, and I wouldn’t dare criticise them. I personally stopped wearing my oversized hand-me-down kilt before I was old enough for it to show any ankle, but then that was in the days before Dangermouse :wink:

Cecil’s column is lacking an actual question. It goes:

*Dear Cecil:

Cecil replies: *

From the column title, and from Cecil’s particular answer, we can deduce the question, but none actually appears on the webpage.

If you wear a kilt, be careful when being photographed, especially if you’re seated next to a VIP:

And of course I must share the old story of Angus, the Scotsman who went out for a night of drinking. Many beers later, he staggered outside and then passed out in a park not far from the pub. Two young tourist ladies happened by an hour later and saw him snoring away. One said to the other, “Do you think it’s true what they say about Scotsmen and their kilts?”

“Let’s find out,” the other giggled. They did, and saw that the man was indeed wearing nothing at all under his kilt. As a joke, one of the girls then took off her blue hair ribbon and tied it around Angus’s cock.

He awoke in the morning with a splitting headache and a full bladder. As he reached under his kilt and prepared to relieve himself, he saw the ribbon and said, “Och, I don’t know where ye’ve been, lad, but I see ye won first prize!”

This has been discussed fairly often, as one of the (fanciful) “origins” of the phrase “the whole nine yards.” Most authorities that I’ve seen say that the historical kilt was NOT necessarily nine yards, by a long shot.

For instance, this site says:

Thanks for the link, I’m new to Straight Dope and just reading through the archive so haven’t read the ‘whole nine yards’ article yet. The Great Kilts I have seen are certainly eight to nine yards long, but they are all recently made and aren’t necessarily historically accurate. I can see why a poor person might have skimped on the length of cloth, especially as we Scots have a reputation for meanness, as in ‘Scotch Tape’, but we also have a climate that justifies as much cloth as possible.
(That’s where my pseudonymn comes from, as Baron Greenback alluded to, it refers to the Scots word ‘drookit’, meaning sodden wet. Due to a thunderstorm I was drookit when I made my first post, and due to another thunderstorm I still am).

I still think it is likely that the lack of underwear under a kilt , which was a regulation in most regiments, is related to ancient Celtic warriors fighting naked. I know that most young kilt-wearers today forgo underwear simply so that when they are asked by a foreign girl can reply ‘Why don’t you reach in and find out?’, and many of them don’t even wait to be asked.

And when set to music and transported to the World of Warcraft universe, we wind up with this.


Er, that’s rubbish, regardless of the origin of the costume, which you are correct about, they are formal wear for all sorts of occasions in Scotland, the most obvious as the Baron points out being weddings, the second most ceildhs.

More often encountered as a song, actually.

Okay, I admit I exaggerated as some respectable people wear kilts as everyday attire. I’ve never been to a wedding where someone isn’t wearing a kilt, but I’ve never been to a wedding reception where some kilt-wearer didn’t expose themselves, maybe that’s just my friends and familiy. Underwear should be mandatory when whisky is involved. In my experience of ceildhs, kilts are ‘de rigeur’ in Edinburgh and Glasgow but are rarer further north where people don’t need to try so hard to seem Scottish.

I prefer my ‘breeks’, which is Scots for trousers or the American ‘pants’. Like many Scots words it comes from the Dutch, broeken.